A recent report published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) brings to light some painfully glaring contrasts developing amongst the ranks of the Palestinian Authority.
While many left-wing and human rights groups blame the Israeli “occupation” for poor living conditions in Gaza and Palestinian-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria, the report paints a picture of a new class of Palestinians living in comfort and even luxury in a fast-developing society where literacy is high, infant mortality is low and citizens are happier than most Americans.
The report, entitled “Luxury Alongside Poverty in the Palestinian Authority”, explores the contradictions between a world narrative regarding the plight of the Palestinian “refugee” population and the realities of Palestinian daily life.
These realities for today’s Palestinian refugees are cushioned by billions of dollars of international aid which have gone towards improving conditions in refugee camps since 1948. The PA receives approximately $2 billion in aid annually from the UN, the US and other governmental bodies. Economic analysts estimate that the PA has received a total of $25 billion in foreign aid since the establishment of Palestinian self-rule in parts of Judea, Samaria and Gaza in the mid-1990’s.
Though much of this aid has been siphoned off by corrupt PA leadership to build luxurious homes and governmental buildings, the effects of the funds are visible in both refugee camps and in the building up of Palestinian towns and cities throughout the PA.
A typical refugee “camp shelter” generally consists of a 4-5 story concrete apartment building with electricity, satellite television and municipal garbage collection. According to the UN, 99.8 percent of camp shelters are connected to water networks, and 87 percent are connected to sewerage networks. In addition, as of 2013, almost 70 percent of Palestinian refugees lived outside of refugee camps.
While a percentage of Palestinians do remain trapped in the slums of old refugee camps, another population is emerging, quite literally, next door: a socioeconomic class which can afford luxury vehicles, new high-end electronics and gadgets, and visits to five-star hotels. Many cities located in the PA are thriving, full of prosperous shops and restaurants and beautiful new neighborhoods and homes. In Nablus, said the report, which is the largest Palestinian-run city, there are more BMWs and Mercedes on the streets than in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.
The report includes dozens of photos of high-end buildings, businesses, homes and neighborhoods going up across Palestinian cities and Gaza. Ramallah, which is the capital of the PA, is now home to a five-star hotel which cost $40 million to build and employs a head chef from Florence, a pastry chef from Paris and a lobby covered in marble. The city boasts banks, brokerage firms, health clubs and a Mercedes dealership which sells luxury-class sports cars and SUVs to wealthy Palestinians. In the city of Jenin, a five-story $5 million mall recently opened whose wares include plasma-screen TVs, vacuum cleaners, espresso machines, china plates and crystal.
The JCPA reports the mall’s CEO, Ziad Turabi, as saying, “We believe we can make a very handsome profit. Many people in the…territories have money but they have nowhere to spend it if they’re after quality.”
In contrast to the dismal images of poverty, oppression and despair projected onto the world stage by the PA and its advocates, the report digests empirical data which reveals another picture entirely.
Some of the facts uncovered would probably shock a consumer of the mainstream media narrative. According to the CIA World Factbook, the poverty rate in Palestinian-controlled areas was reported at 18 percent in 2011, a number actually lower than Israel’s 2012 poverty rate of 21 percent.
Life expectancy, which is 70 years on average worldwide, was 76 years for Palestinians in 2015. For contrast, the 2012 average life expectancy in other Arab states was 71 years. In 2015, the infant mortality rate in Palestinian areas and Gaza was 13 per 1,000 live births, significantly better than the 27 per 1,000 live births in other Arab states and 36.58 per 1,000 live births worldwide.
Palestinians also surpass other populations in education and literacy. In 2011, 63.5 percent of Arabs said they were satisfied with their education system, a higher percentage than people living in the US (62.8), Netherlands (60.3), Sweden (61.6) and Japan (54.6), and much higher than the overall percentage in Arab states, which was 50 percent. The average literacy rate for people aged 15 and above in Palestinian cities and Gaza was 96.5 percent in 2015.
The JCPA report also mentions that many Palestinians are employed by Israelis, from whom they receive nearly double the salaries that they would get from Palestinian employers. In 2014, the official newspaper of the PA published an article praising Israeli employers for their treatment of Palestinian workers, admitting that the workers are eager for opportunities to work for Israelis, citing higher salaries, more benefits and better working conditions.
In another surprising reveal, the report cites the 2012 Happy Planet Index, which is a survey conducted by the New Economics Forum to measure happiness around the world. Out of 20 Arab countries, the Palestinian Authority ranked third happiest, but even more shockingly, it ranked 30th happiest worldwide, placing it above the US, the UK, Sweden, Australia and Canada.
As the report concludes, there is considerable wealth and a much higher living standard in “occupied” Palestine than PA leaders and pro-Palestinian activists would have the world believe.